Thursday, September 25, 2008

Church History Trip - Day 3

August 29, 2008 - We boarded the bus at the obnoxiously early hour of 8:00 am (only really obnoxiously early if you stay awake really "early"... which we did...). This is our bus looking simply smashing after yesterday's storm:

Our first stop was the Far West Temple Site, located about 40 miles northeast of Kansas City. The first thing that surprised me about Far West is that there's nothing really there anymore. Every where else we went on this trip, excepting Adam-ondi-Ahman (which is expected), we were in a pretty decent-sized community. Far West is literally in the middle of no where.

The corner stones for the Far West Temple are still on the site. They are individually encased in glass. Compared to the temple site in Independence, Far West Temple was going to be huge. The "footprint" of the building was probably more comparable to the Nauvoo temple, only slightly smaller. One of the many things I learned at the site was that each of the temple corner stones stands for a branch of the priesthood. I don't remember the exact "north/south/east/west" locations for the corner stones, but each stone had a plaque next to it indicating, "This cornerstone was laid in representation of..." for each of the following: the High Council (Quorum of the Twelve), the Lesser Priesthood, the First Presidency, and the High Priesthood.

The monument at Far West, located at the back of the temple lot, was engraved with references from Doctrine and Covenants sections 115 and 118. D&C 115:7 says, "Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy." There are only two other places in the scriptures that use this phrase, about the ground being holy (Exodus 3:5, Acts 7:33) and both of them refer to Moses and the burning bush. It was incredible to stand on ground that was so hallowed.

Another thing that I found really neat was in relation to the revelation given in D&C 118:5, where it says, "Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord." The Twelve Apostles were called to serve missions in this revelation, and were to be set apart and leave the Far West Temple grounds on the appointed date. However, the Saints had already been driven from Missouri when their departure date arrived. At the suggestion of one of the Brethren, they all snuck across the state line in the middle of the night of April 25th-26th, were set apart while sitting on the cornerstone representing the Twelve, and then left on their missions from the Far West site. They fulfilled the revelation as it was given, risking their lives by reentering the state of Missouri after the Extermination Order had been given. It was really incredible to be there.

This is a picture of two of the guys I met while on the trip. Jason Oliver (left) was on our bus and sat in the back with Mindy, Gretchen, myself, and a few others. Keith White (right) was on the other bus, but him and some other friends came over most nights to our hotel room to play card games.

Mindy and I had this picture taken just outside the Temple Grounds (and some majesty or apparition of sorts glowin' on there in the middle):

Although this picture was taken in the Far West area, it really is a pretty good generalization of what we spent a LOT of time driving by throughout the trip. Lots of rolling hills, lots of big grain rolls... mostly just lots and LOTS of farmland. From what I gather, that's a pretty fair assessment of the Midwest in general.

We spent probably four hours in the bus driving from Far West to Nauvoo - basically across the entire state of Missouri. The main highlights of this four hour drive were stopping for lunch and driving through Hannibal (Mark Twain's hometown). According to our best calculations (because we're not 100% sure where we were, we stopped for lunch in a Middle-of-Missouri town called Chillicothe. The highlight consisted in our adoption (purchase?) of the notorious Ferdner "Ferdy" Hick. Gretchen and I had discussed the awesomeness that would ensue if we were to attain our own "Travelocity Gnome"... of sorts. We saw the man himself at the Dollar Store our bus parked next to... and history was made. (Ferdner was named during a period of semi-consciousness on the part of Gretchen somewhere between Chillicothe and Nauvoo. She claimed the epiphany, and we thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was made all the more cool when we returned home and watched Stardust, only to realize that the peddler in the movie is none-other than Ferdy the Fence! "Okay... you're havin' a laugh!") Ferdner was featured in many of our pictures taken during the remainder of our trip... so don't be surprised if you see him crop up every now and then...

We arrived in Nauvoo at around 3:30 pm; we were dropped off on Main Street and basically turned loose on historic Nauvoo for two hours. Since basically everything closed at 5:00 pm, we only had about an hour to see stuff that afternoon... and we also knew we would only have about 2-3 hours the next day...

This is the Cultural Hall located on the north end of Main Street; the Cutural Hall was used a a central meeting place, for plays, dances, etc. (This is where we watched Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo later that night...):

We went to the Post Office, right next to John Taylor's home, on Main Street. We walked down to the Scovil Bakery, where we got these tasty gingerbread cookies (and the recipe!), and then went next store to the Stoddard home and Tin Shop. This is a picture of a "Berry Line" (right smack in the middle with the string out one end). I took this picture because I figured Dad and probably Spencer would get a kick out of the original chalk line. They'd put fresh berries in the cup and mushed them up, so that when they drew out the string, held both ends tight, and snapped the line, they had a pretty straight line of berry juice that was very difficult to wash away. :0) Way cool!!

East of the Cultural Hall is a Family Center, where a lot of the Senior Missionaries held mini classes on how the Saints used to perform different every-day tasks. This is where we made rope - I think from the sorrel plant...? (and Dad, I took a LOT of pictures of this machine, if you ever got a hankering to make one... it was pretty darn cool):

This was rope made out of old cloth - same machine:

We also learned about dying and making fabric. After you collected the fibers (from flax, wool, cotton) you created the thread/yarn through a spinning wheel. Most people know that:

What most people don't know (at least I sure didn't) is that in order to sell the skeins of yarn, you had to measure it. They used a spinner's weasel to do this. You fed the yarn through the weasel and every two revolutions, POP goes the Weasel... I laughed, but it really happens.

Also in the Family Center you could make bread, dip candles, and a lot of other fun stuff. When we left the Family Center, we walked outside and thought this was pretty cool - the first signs of fall, surrounded by all the green. It was so dang pretty there!

Mindy decided that she wanted to use the necessary house. We surprised her when she came out. (And if you believe that one's not staged...)

We played cards while we waited for Mindy to come out of the necessary house. (Gretchen won. Go figure.)

A lot of the buildings in Nauvoo were made out of brick that was made from clay found in the area. This is the Heber C. Kimball house, and one of the biggest in the area.

A lot of the homes that were not lived in after the Saints left deteriorated over time. Most of the foundations had been excavated, looking for artifacts and the like. If they didn't know whose house it was or what it looked like, as was the case with a lot of the buildings, they looked a little something like this:

Mindy, Gretchen, and I are all of the opinion that we'd rather have pictures of us that we actually posed for. Or had someone else go, "Hey, I'm gonna take a picture." Pretty sure that's what I said right before this happened:

Right before we went back to the bus, we ran out on the skirts of Historic Nauvoo to look at the Wilford Woodruff house:

We got back to the bus right around 5:30 pm, and headed over to the Nauvoo Family Inn & Suites (our home and restaurant for the next two nights) and ate dinner - which after Ma & Pa's Kettle was basically amazing. From dinner we drove back over to the Cultural Hall to watch the play Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo, which was put on entirely by the Senior Missionaries serving in Nauvoo. It was both entertaining and endearing to see them act, dance, and sing out the story of Old Nauvoo. There was a new Senior couple that had just arrived and were watching the play, that they soon would be putting on themselves before long, for the very first time... watching their slightly shocked reactions was pretty awesome. I think it would be a blast! They sure looked like they were having fun! This is a video of their opening number... I think they're adorable!

We left Rendezvous and on our way back to the bus, we found a friend:

I got a lot of weird looks when I just reached down and picked up the garter snake, but Mindy and Gretchen thought it was cool.

I had them document this effectively to prove that I am not completely petrified of reptiles - in fact I quite like snakes. Turtles are cool. Lizards are, regretfully, still not cool. No offense to the lizards. We just have issues. I actually thought it would be pretty cool to have a pet garter snake... but we weren't sure that Tom (bus driver) would let me keep him.

Our tour guide didn't really plan a ton of "souvenir" time, so while we waited for the other bus to get back from Carthage (we were always alternating sites) we walked down to the gift shop of the hotel to see what they had. I got some pictures of some "quote signs" with Julie in mind - mostly because of the words (I think you could make them so much cooler Julie). This one was our favorite - admittedly we got a good kick out of it:

Two other quotes were, "Even a small star shines in the darkness." And, "I believe in angels, the kind that heaven sends. They're always her to guide me. I think of them as friends."

We were still waiting for the other bus, so we camped out in the hallway outside our hotel room and took pictures of our security guard, Ferdy.

We waited for the other bus a lot. I got a fair amount of "journal" caught up. Mostly we were paparazzied by Gretchen. Eventually the guys showed up and we played cards. More adventures ensued in the form of pillow fights... of course after the guys left and we were "in" bed.

Stay tuned for DAY 4!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Church History Trip - Days 1 & 2

Apologies in advance. This post covers just the first two days on the trip, but in order to really do the trip justice the posts will be long, full of pictures, and probably come several days apart... just fair warning. But I couldn't really do less - this trip was life changing in many ways.

On August 27th, I left work early and headed straight up to Salt Lake Airport. Destination - Kansas City, Missouri. I was slightly nervous (understatement) as I was traveling halfway across the country with 80 other young single adults - and only one knew my name. So I arrived in Salt Lake and found a seat at the gate where I could observe others while reading the book I'd brought myself. The flight from Salt Lake to Denver, where we had a layover, was uneventful - I read. But I met up with Gretchen - the one person I had met prior to our departure - and we had lunch at Paradise Bakery on the Denver concourse. (BTW - that is some wicked-good food!) Boarding the second flight from Denver to Kansas City, I met the two "Keith's" who I also happened to be sitting by on the plane, making the flight much more entertaining (they were from Camarillo and grew up with my cousins... we had a good time playing the "did you know" game.)

We landed in Kansas City, MO - possibly the smallest airport I've ever been in. The shuttle that was supposed to take us to the hotel that night was late and only fit about 8 people in it at one time... so I grabbed my very first taxi with some others and arrived at the hotel around 11:30p. I checked into my hotel room and met my trip roommates: Gretchen (already kinda knew), Mindy, and Bethany. We all decided that since we had an early morning, we would head straight to bed.

We got up early the next morning, August 28th, and boarded the only permanent thing for the rest of the trip - our bus. :0) This is Gretchen and me leaving the hotel:

We headed to our first trip stop, which interestingly enough gave me a great starting perspective through which to view the rest of the trip. We headed to Independence, MO - and consequently the headquarters for the Community of Christ Church, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS). And our first stop in Independence was the Community of Christ Temple. I'm not sure what I was expecting... but this was not it:

Gretchen, Mindy, and I quickly concluded that the temple looked like a hybrid between a conch shell and a wizard's hat. I've seen a lot of different temples, LDS and others, but nothing that would have set my expectations for this building.

Our first steps inside, once we'd met up with our tour guide from the Community of Christ Church, revealed this room: 

This room is supposed to symbolize the sacred the sacred grove, which explains the double-paned etched glass artwork. The piece in the middle is representative of the burning bush. The glass walls took the artist over a year of constant work to complete; she also sacrificed several years of her life by completing the piece, because as she etched the glass, she would breath the dust particles which have damaged her lungs. An amazing sacrifice - the finished product was beautiful!

As we made our way, in a circle, to the middle of the temple - the main worship room called the Sanctuary - we passed even more artwork depictions. This one is called The Prodigal Son; on the wall next to this etching was a marble engraving that said, "Once was Lost... Now is Found." Passing this artwork on your way into the Sanctuary was designed to recall the parable to mind, causing the viewer/worshiper to remember that we are all lost and must return to Christ to be found. Entering the Sanctuary was one path that led to Christ.

When the RLDS Church changed its name, it adopted the Cross as a symbol of its religion. I loved the symbolism of this next piece, which cast a shadow of the cross along the path into the Sanctuary. Each person who entered the Sanctuary had to pass through the shadow of the cross before they reached their main goal. Again... awesome symbolism.

This is the Sanctuary. In this room, as well as others, our guide allowed us to ask questions about the Community of Christ religion. Many of us were curious about the differences between our beliefs and theirs, since we stemmed from the same main beliefs. The best way to explain it is that they believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet - to a point. They do not believe in any of his revelations after the time the Saints entered Nauvoo. They practice the ordinances of baptism by immersion, confirmation of the Holy Ghost, and the healing of the sick, but they do not practice any of the temple ordinances we hold so sacred. They can receive Patriarchal Blessings (multiple in their lifetime even), but they are not married and sealed for eternity. This was almost heart-breaking to hear. They also now down-lay the significance of Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet as well as the significance of the Book of Mormon. It was really sad to see how far away from the true Gospel this religion has pulled.

The Community of Christ Temple was actually designed to resemble the nautilus shell. Standing in the middle of the Sanctuary and looking up, this is what you see, the symbolism indicating a gradual ascension into the heavens:

This is the view of the entire temple from the northwest side - the side facing the actual temple site dedicated by Joseph Smith, Jr. It really is beautiful in its own way.

I was having a difficult time reconciling this temple with the other temples built in the time of the saints. This temple was actually built in the 1980s and 1990s. The other temple that the Community of Christ owns is the Kirtland Temple in Ohio... And this one is just so radically different.

I'd predicted hot and muggy weather for the entire weekend... I was right about the muggy part, but the weather was actually cooler than anticipated - almost refreshing. I like this picture because it shows my attempt at making the temple fit into my expectations (which didn't work) but also shows the large white clouds that were everywhere:

Across the street from the temple is this open field, the actual temple site dedicated by the the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. on August 3, 1831. Some say that the Garden of Eden was located in current Jackson County, MO - the county where Independence is located. Independence itself was referred to as the City of Zion by the Saints that lived here in the early days of the church. The location of the four cornerstones of the Independence Temple are still identified on this site by markers. You can see the North East marker at the bottom of this picture:

This is a close up of the same marker in the picture above:

This is the Stone Church, built around 1888. It was where the RLDS church held its meetings for years until the Temple was built. Mostly I just thought it was a really pretty building.

This is the entrance to the LDS Visitor's Center in Independence, MO. I loved how big and beautiful the plants that covered this entire region were. It really is one of the most beautiful places on the planet... for a variety of reasons...

And, as always, the Christus was amazing! I can think of no other statue that holds such a powerful place in my heart.

We were really hungry by this point. We stopped at this huge shopping center that had lots of restaurants. Gretchen and I just decided to go to the closest place - the really good burger place that was only about 30 feet from the bus. We were already tired! :0S

Our next stop was the Historic Liberty Jail. This picture is the rotunda that was built around the remnants of the original jailhouse. They've reconstructed the jail as a life-size cross-section diorama of what it was like for the Brethren incarcerated in the Liberty Jail.

In the Visitor's Center portion of the Liberty Jail, we sat and discussed some of the things that occurred on that holy site. I found it incredibly powerful that Liberty Jail is referred to as the Prison-Temple. These are copies of the paintings housed in the Liberty Jail Visitor's Center, Liz Lemon Swi
ndle's depictions of what occurred while the Prophet was in Liberty. The paintings are a set called Of One Heart; Joseph in Liberty Jail and Emma on the Ice. During Joseph's incarceration at Liberty Jail, the Saints were driven
 from the state of Missouri into Illinois, and were forced to cross the Mississippi River during the coldest winter on record - so cold the entire Mississippi River froze over. Emma, left alone with their young children, crossed the frozen river with the Saints. Joseph knew of the hard times with which his family and the rest of the Saints were faced. During this time, Joseph received revelations we now refer to as Doctrine and Covenants sections 121, 122, and 123. Reading these sections now I feel more powerfully the emotions that went into these powerful scriptures.

This is the existing entrance to the Liberty Jail, within the external rotunda. It was the only entrance into or out of the jail itself. And except for periods when the prisoners were being taken in and out, or when the guard was being changed, this door was locked at all times. 

This is the top half of the Liberty Jail cross-section, the place where the guards stayed. The prisoners were lowered into the bottom half of the building through the trap door in the middle of the room.

The walls were four feet thick, from the ground to the roof; from the inside out, there was a layer of 1-foot-thick oak beams, a 1-foot-thick space filled with loose rock and gravel, and a 2-foot-thick wall of rock and mortar. If the prisoners were able to bore through the oak beams, they would then have to remove the loose rock and gravel from the inner cavity. As they did so, the rock above would fall to fill the vacant space created, and alert the guards on the upper floor. 19th century prison security - and very effective.

This is the lower floor of the Liberty Jail cross-section. They have depictions of each of the five men incarcerated during that winter: Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Lyman White, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin (I believe Sidney Rigdon was also held here for a time, until he became very ill and was allowed to leave - so he is not portrayed at the site). The space from floor to ceiling was 6 feet, and most of the men were taller than that when they stood up straight; the tallest was 6'6" tall - they had to stoop most of the time they were incarcerated. They had one blanket to share between the five of them, and during the bitter cold winter, they usually shoved the blanket into one of the two windows, attempting to block out the cold. They were fed food that was barely palatable and was usually accompanied by maggots... or worse, often having been offered to the chickens first.

I would say that of all of the places we went to, Liberty Jail was one of the most powerful places for me personally (the other being Carthage Jail). I found it interesting as well that the CES fireside given by Elder Holland the Sunday after I came home to Utah was focused on the events at Liberty Jail, a reminder that no matter what our conditions nor our surroundings, holy places can be found and powerful, spiritual experiences, even revelations, can be received.

We left Liberty, MO and drove north into a lot of more rural areas. As we approached Adam-ondi-Ahman, thick, black clouds formed and began unleashing sheets of rain. The windows on the sides of the bus looked as if we were sitting right under a giant hose, as the rain water streamed down. We actually went up this one hill that looked just like the hill in Twister where they release the Dorothy machine and that tornado tears down the hill after them. Seeing a tornado come out of that storm wouldn't really have surprised any of us... it was that ominously dark! We drove through the surrounding hills, approaching the valley through mud puddles and past mist-covered meadows. When we got to the overlook trailhead, those of us that wanted to got off the bus and ran through the storm to look over the valley.

As is mentioned on the plaque below, many Saints lived here for a very short time before they were driven out due to persecution. One of the hills - Tower Hill - received its name because Joseph Smith, Jr. found the remains of what he called an old Nephite altar.

Many believe that Adam-ondi-Ahman is the land where Adam dwelt and built an altar after he and Eve were driven from Eden. The foretold significance of the valley during the 2nd Coming was something we discussed for a while as well. Mostly, it was just amazingly beautiful... probably made even more so with the mist and storm. It really emphasized the belief that this was the one location in lone and dreary world that Adam picked after leaving the garden. Of course some say that this valley was the garden itself... I don't guess. It was just really pretty. :0)

And, I might add... really wet. I was off the bus for a grand total of 5 minutes (if that). I was completely - completely - soaked when I got back on the bus. It took two nights for my sweatshirt to dry... even with that I was soaked to my skin!

Our last stop for the day was to take a tour through a nearby Amish community called Jamesport. This was really cool! This was our "English" tour guide (the Amish call the other people in their community the "English".):

The people there are so friendly and humble. We were joking that if one of us were to convert an Amish man to the gospel and introduce him into society, we would feel almost guilty for corrupting him - even if that corruption included giving him the true gospel. They are just that humble and good. Makes me wonder how much better a lot of us would be if we went back to the basic ways of life...

This ended the tour  stops for the first day. We stopped at Ma & Pa's Kettle for dinner (not recommended) in Cameron, MO. We stayed at a hotel right next to a WalMart (this was a bonus!) and played card games in our hotel room with the Keiths and some of Gretchen's friends. I would like to say we were reasonable and went to bed early, but the pillow talk (or pillow laughing) went on well into the night... :0)